They're Just Window Dressing, but Tiffany Sparkles with Gene Moore's Gems
In cramped confines (Tiffany windows are 3 feet high, 22 inches deep and a maximum 4½ feet across), Moore creates new eye-catching fantasies every two weeks. An early bird pulls a worm out of the earth, except that the worm is a diamond necklace; a toy truck dumps a load of dirt and diamonds; fishhooks, suspended over coral and sand in an imaginary sea, are baited with ruby and sapphire rings.
"When Gene Moore put a diamond on a piece of lettuce," says famed dress designer Pauline Trigère, "he invented a new way to present jewels. He could make a carrot glamorous." Indeed, to set off Tiffany's jewelry, the 70-year-old Moore has used burlap, bark, moss, sheet music and bricks. The contrast between the ordinary and the extraordinary startles viewers into realizing the preciousness of the gems. "I want them to look again and again," he says, "with what Zen philosophers call the 'ahness' of things." Humor is another of his tools. "If people smile, I know they 'get' it," says Moore, who one Valentine's Day spelled out LOVE YOU in gumdrops. For those who don't find New York even a nice place to visit, the best of his displays over the years are included in the newly published Windows at Tiffany's: The Art of Gene Moore, by Judith Goldman (Harry N. Abrams, $50).
"Don't try to sell anything; we'll take care of that in the store," instructed Walter Hoving, chairman of Tiffany's when Moore started in 1955. He was given carte blanche, never working with a budget ("I'm not extravagant—if I am, it's with imagination, not money") and having unlimited access to the store's treasures ("I never build anything around merchandise—I make merchandise work for me").
Moore says he gets his ideas everywhere: "I show people things they've looked at before but really haven't seen—like dirt. Dirt can be beautiful." So can ice. One of his favorite windows showed a large block of fake ice and, leaning against it, a pair of tongs pinching another sort of "ice," a huge diamond. He also created fountains that spurted gin instead of water to mark a water shortage in the city. "The gin evaporated at the rate of a case a day," he reports, "and the store smelted like one big martini."
Born in Birmingham, Ala., Moore is the son of a railroad engineer. His parents divorced when he was an infant and at 3 he was sent to live with an electrician and his wife who raised him. "Those people were divine," Moore says. In 1929 he headed north to study painting at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and in 1935 arrived in New York City, where, he exclaims, "I was really born. I was free." His hopes for an artist's career fizzled. "I had a long talk with myself," he says, "and decided I wasn't going to be the world's greatest painter." Thus began his career as a window dresser.
Taking a clue from some Surrealist windows Salvador Dali did for Bonwit Teller in 1939, Moore was soon piling shoes and spring flowers into baby carriages for Bergdorf's and hanging high heels on strings, a radical idea at the time. His originality paid off. He became head of display at Bonwit's and then moved to Tiffany's. Moore has also moonlighted as a photographer for Vogue and done sets and costumes for Sir John Gielgud and the Paul Taylor Dance Company.
"The pay is lousy—all display men are underpaid," he complains (Moore receives an estimated $50,000 a year). "But I have the best job in the whole world." His only regret is that Tiffany's is not grooming anyone to take over when he's gone—which won't be soon if Moore has his way. "I want to live another hundred years," he says. "And I won't retire. Someday they'll find me toes up in the window."